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In performance: Eclipse Chamber Orchestra

Web-only review:

Eclipse makes large scale intimate
by Mark J. Estren

What interweaving! It was not just the playing of the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, whose members always intermingle with insouciant skill. It was the orchestra's entire program that melded and meshed beautifully on Sunday at the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria.
(read more after the jump)

The ECO's season opener featured small-ensemble creations by three composers best known for large-scale works: Wagner, Stravinsky and Richard Strauss. The players brought delicacy and lovely balance to Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll," one of the composer's most personal expressions, whose rippling-string theme knits together otherwise disconnected excerpts from his operas. Music Director Sylvia Alimena conducted with sweep and passion, gently nudging the music toward nobility.

There is always a sense that the ECO musicians -- mostly members of the National Symphony Orchestra -- are enjoying themselves. That was certainly the case as they played Stravinsky's "Pulcinella" suite, sounding at times like a hurdy-gurdy, at others like a street band. This ballet is all about disguise, and Stravinsky neatly conceals the 18th-century music on which he based it. The ECO handled the many quick rhythmic changes with aplomb, and the solo snippets -- notably in trombone and double bass -- were delightful.

Richard Strauss's "Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme" has a small-orchestra sound of 1920 that is quite different from Stravinsky's of the same year. Strauss is warmer and less acerbic, featuring violin solos (in which concertmaster Elisabeth Adkins excelled) and such touches as a delightful cello-harp duet. This work -- its title perhaps best rendered in English as "The Would-Be Gentleman" -- is witty and expansive. It gave Alimena and the ECO a chance to show just how much sound a top-notch chamber orchestra can produce. The fact that Strauss quotes Wagner's "Das Rheingold" in the finale helped bring this well-planned, well-played concert full circle.

-- Mark J. Estren

By Anne Midgette  |  November 10, 2009; 6:26 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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